by Rich Shumate
Multimedia Writing students need to be familiar with major facets of media law to guide and protect them as they work in the media. Chapter 14 in Writing and Reporting News goes into detail regarding many of these aspects.
These notes highlight my lecture on March 31. Be sure to read Chapter 14 for yourself, using my lecture as an alert for some of the specific cases to know. Remember, we’re having Quiz 4 over Chapter 14 during class on Thursday, April 7.
Libel: Printing or broadcasting information about someone that is false and harms their reputation (called defamation.) The most common cause for a libel suit is saying someone committed a crime when they didn’t, which is why it is important to always make clear that someone is being charged with a crime, not that they did it.
If you are sued for libel, truth is always a defense. Public officials and public officials must prove that the information is false and that a journalist showed actual malice (knew the information was false or showed reckless disregard for the truth.) However, private figures only have to prove the information was false and that the journalist was negligent, a much easier standard. So accuracy is paramount when reporting information about private figures.
Qualified Privilege: Protects journalists from being held liable for publishing or broadcasting libelous statements made by public officials in the course of their public duties or inaccurate information provided by public agencies or taken from public records, However, in order for the privilege to apply, a journalist must fairly and accurately report the information.
Shield Laws: The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment does not protect the confidentiality of sources or information used by journalists (that is, the journalist-source relationship is not protected in the same way as the doctor-patient or clergy-parishoner relationship.) This means that federal courts can force journalists to reveal their sources.
However, in 49 of the 50 states (Wyoming being the lone exception), state laws or court rulings allow journalists to protect their confidential sources in state courts. In Florida, judges use a three-part test, asking these questions: 1) Does the journalist have relevant information? 2) Is there another way to get that information, other than from the journalist? 3) Is there a compelling need for the information to be divulged?
Invasion of Privacy: People can sue when they feel that their privacy has been invaded by a journalist. Such things as trespassing, stealing information, using deception to get a story, or electronically intruding into someone’s home or office can result in an invasion of privacy suit.
A useful defense against such a suit is to argue that the story was so newsworthy that the news value outweighs the invasion of privacy. Invasion of privacy suits can also result from a story or picture that paints someone in a false light, using someone’s name or photo for a commercial purpose without permission, or public disclosure of private information, such as someone’s medical records. However, if those private facts come from public records, qualified privilege would apply.
Copyright: Material (including your JOU 3109 blog) is copyrighted when it is created, even if it has not been registered and doesn’t carry the copyright mark. If you want to use copyrighted material, the best course of action is to ask for permission.
However, there are some instances when copyrighted material can be used without permission, including fair use of a limited amount of material for a specific purpose that doesn’t harm the value of the original work. Some material is also considered to be in the public domain, including government websites and publications and older works whose copyrights have expired.